Ridgelines: The culture of success at Deer Valley | ParkRecord.com

Ridgelines: The culture of success at Deer Valley

With hardly the blink of an eye, Bennett slid off the chairlift and pointed his ski tips into the glade below, cruising on autopilot slicing effortless turns between the aspens

Tom Kelly

Riding up Sterling Express, new Deer Valley Resort president and CEO Todd Bennett was excitedly scrolling through his phone. As huge snowflakes were accumulating into pillows of powder below us, he was checking the real-time status of the official Deer Valley snow stake along the Ontario run coming off Flagstaff Mountain – our destination that morning.

Bennett’s phone is one of the frequent visitors to the webcam page. But today was special. “We’re just nine inches from the record,” he exclaimed proudly. Later that day, Deer Valley broke its all time mark of 485 inches.

With hardly the blink of an eye, Bennett slid off the chairlift and pointed his ski tips into the glade below, cruising on autopilot slicing effortless turns between the aspens. 

I struggled to keep up, proud of making it through that first batch of trees unscathed. From there we crossed over into the Sunset Glade, blasting through fresh powder on top of the old Naildriver mine and down onto the Ontario road. He confided that it was his favorite tree run. Mine too!

Todd Bennett is the next generation leader of what for over four decades has arguably been one of the most revered ski areas in America. A 17-year Disney veteran, he answered a help-wanted ad a year ago and last summer found himself sitting at his own desk in Snow Park Lodge as the new president and COO.

Bennett grew up skiing at Mt. Pisgah outside Saranac Lake, New York, just a few miles from the Olympic village of Lake Placid. He was just 4 years old when the Games came to Placid in 1980, but it had a big impact on his life. Today, his office is adorned with an original 1932 Lake Placid Olympic art poster and a fun one featuring 1980 mascot Roni the raccoon. Alongside his desk is a copy of “The Man Behind Maps,” a coffee table book he produced for noted artist James Niehus.

But his real office is out on the hill, in the resort’s lodges and out meeting employees and guests. From snowmaking to snow grooming, he’s tried it all. “I love parking,” he said. “I think parking is just a fun experience. It’s the first touchpoint for the guests. It’s always a puzzle, always a challenge.”

There are two things that truly shine through when you spend a few hours on the mountain with Bennett. First, he lives the Disney culture of service – always relating conversations back to guests and employees. His favorite stories to tell after nine months on the job are about his staff, their camaraderie and dedication to serving visitors.

The other standout point is that he and his family love to ski. Riding up another chair, he gets out his phone to show me a thread of videos he’s been sending to a ski buddy who now lives in Wisconsin. Seemingly with every snow storm, Bennett or special chairlift guests like Lindsey Vonn record a video message to poor Evan who is back in Milwaukee salivating over how good the skiing is 1,500 miles away at Deer Valley.

The snow is continuing to dump as we ski off Silver Strike Express and down Ontario to the protected snow measurement plot. We carefully stepped up the fluffy snow to the measurement stake, nearly buried with more than 10 feet of snow down to earth. It was clear the record was going to fall that day.

A big focus for Bennett this season has been learning the history of Deer Valley, from the mountains’ 19th-century mining origins to the vision that Edgar Stern brought in 1981. It’s a history that established the culture of the resort.

“It’s so important to understand where you came from – the history and why this place is what it is,” he said while riding up the Viking lift to Stein Eriksen Lodge. “How do you pioneer and chart new territory while respecting the heritage? We’re not going to change what we’re known for, but we’re going to have to evolve the way we deliver service.”

Skiing around the mountain, Bennett often turns to the culture of his employees, from retired colonels to J1 visa students seeking an American experience to modern-day ski bums who found long careers at DV. “(We’re) so very lucky,” he said. “I think a big part of my job is to make sure that we keep this culture in place and strong enough that people want to work here.”


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